[Blows off dust, taps mic. Hello? Is this thing on? I still have this blog!? Phew. Thanks for staying with me despite my neglect, blog. You never know when the Internet is going to piss you off and you're going to need your soapbox back.]
I’m a geek. I’ve suffered repetitive stress injuries from video games. I can’t order a cup of earl grey without adding “hot” and giggling to myself. I get almost 10% of XKCD comic strips!
But I sometimes forget I’m a geek, because I’ve always been the least geeky person in my immediate family. That being said, I have compared my sister’s strategy at playing Settlers of Catan to that of Otto von Bismarck in unifying Germany, so I’m clearly not so much of a black sheep as a dusky gray one.
I assume it is because I never fully embraced my geek identity that I never really had to confront the misogyny among geeks. I knew it was there, I’d get a whiff of it when I’d delve into a new geeky interest (like comic books) and I’d read the experiences of more strongly geek-identified women. But keeping my geekiness at arm’s length from my central identity has let me become sadly complacent about geek misogyny.
Which is why I was foolishly surprised to see the vitriol unleashed upon Gizmodo’s Alyssa Bereznak’s “hit piece” on her Internet dating experience with Magic the Gathering World Champion Jon Finkel. If you don’t want to take the link bait, the post can be summarized as such: Alyssa created an OK Cupid profile, went on a date with a cute hedge-fund guy, learned that he plays Magic the Gathering and is in fact the World Champion. She Googles him and finds out he is Kind of a Big Deal. She goes out on a second date with him, tries to discern how much Magic is a part of his life, discovers the answer is “a lot,” and that is a deal-breaker for her. She advises people to disclose their heavy involvement with geeky subcultures on their online dating profiles, and to “Google the shit” out of prospective internet dates to weed out anyone falling short of that standard of transparency.
Now, that’s my summary of the piece. The first summary I read, following a link from Famous Geeky Woman Felicia Day, was written by another (seemingly Internet famous) geeky woman, Nerdpuddle’s Kiala. It plainly casts Alyssa Bereznek as a simpering moron who is so shallow and superficial you have to use both words even though they are basically synonymous. It left a sour taste in my mouth, even though it sidesteps calling her a bitch or a whore (probably because it is from Alyssa’s perspective).
Kiala’s piece was selected by Buzzfeed as one of the 8 Best Reactions of this particular silicon-dust-up, and it’s the LEAST hostile of the bunch. We’ve got Wikipedia being edited to call her a “shallow bitch.” Then there’s Gizmodo Australia arguing that Bereznek “is making us females look bad.” [Use of the word "females" for "women" is like the whistle of a sexism shell as it hurdles through the air, waiting to blow its misogyny all up in your business] Like the Nerdpuddle post, it fixates on her off-hand reference to being drunk when she set up her OK Cupid profile, obnoxiously cautioning “Any guy will tell you that there’s nothing more unattractive than a drunk girl falling all over the place and having no idea how stupid she looks. ” [Because being attractive to guys is clearly what should guide a woman's choices regarding alcohol consumption, right? Ugh.] It also calls her “shallow” and a “narcissist” and her piece “slanderous.” This woman-written post also avoids calling Bereznek a bitch or a whore, but if you need your fix of that for some reason, please scroll down to the comments. Can’t miss it.
Or you could scroll through this NSFW, NSFHL (that’s Not Safe For Happy Living) meme.
I re-posted the above example because it is offensive but will not drag my blog down to hell with it. Sadly, it is probably in the 90th percentile for non-offensive iterations of the meme. It gets much worse [Remember, NSFW, NSFHL].
Don’t get me wrong: trash-talking a date on the Internet is bad form. Doing this without anonymity is even worse. Basing your talking-of-trash on what is actually a pretty spectacular accomplishment is foolish. Doing this because said accomplishment is geeky is misguided. And doing that to an audience of geeks is absurd. Alyssa Bereznak’s piece is linkbait trash. [Notice I can say that without calling her a whore for making money off her work.]
But the missing step between “well that was a piece of linkbait trash” to this is misogyny. What strikes me as particularly tragic about this parade of sexism in the geek backlash against Alyssa Bereznak is that a big part of what makes her original piece so upsetting is that it is “geek-on-geek violence,” as evidenced by the Simpsons’ cartoon used to illustrate the Nerdpuddle piece. Or as my MtG-enthusiast friend Kaitlin put it, “I think waving one’s own proud geek flag and then persecuting another one is weak sauce. It hurts the geek community. It’s a shitty thing to do.”
But the level of vitriol leveled against Bereznak is even more harmful to the geek community. It justifies the social ostracizing of geeks. A lot of non-geeky women don’t care if you have geeky interests, but do care if you have deep hostility toward their gender. Geek misogyny also scares off a lot of would-be geek women. It’s like a sign posted on the gateway to Geekdom reading “Thar Be Sexist Dragons.”
Kaitlin went on to say, “However, I do not think that [Bereznek's] most egregious faults in this incident are born out of failures to comply with geek solidarity. I think they are born out of doing some pretty shitty things unrelated to being a geek.” I agree. But unleashing tremendous hostility toward women because one woman did something mean is also a shitty thing to do. The Internet’s pillorying of Alyssa Bereznak isn’t just bad for geeks, it’s bad for people. misogyny
And it makes me want to revise my assertion of geekiness at the top of this post. This isn’t a club I want to belong to.